It’s Electric

On February 19, 2012 · 15 Comments

I have multiple interests that occasionally bleed over the borders of the Twelve Mile Circle where they happen to merge with geography. That often includes an historical context that strays into more personal history in the form of genealogy. I’ve spent a lot of my free time on genealogy lately as I prepare for the public release of individual 1940 U.S. Census Records on on April 2, 2012 (they are held for 72 years, by law). That’s how I found myself adding a few remaining 1930 records, the latest ones currently available, in anticipation of the availability of 1940 records in a few weeks.

A tangential relative of mine lived in Alhambra, California in 1930. He was a carpenter, having moved to California a few years earlier after spending most of his life as a rancher in southern Colorado. He moved into a working-class home valued a $4,500. The house still stands:

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The address? 124 Electric Avenue. Why does that matter? Because of that 1982 pop recording by Eddy Grant, "Electric Avenue," of course. It’s been stuck in my head ever since and I can’t get it out. You know the one I’m talking about (and if you don’t there’s always YouTube but be warned it might work its way into your brain);

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher

It wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if that particular song didn’t already annoy the bejesus out of me as it has since the very first moment I heard it. I’m know that many people like it — the song hit #2 on the charts in the United Kingdom and the United States — and I don’t begrudge anyone who does, and I don’t need a pile of hate mail from offended Eddy Grant fans. Surely, however, everyone has a song that grates on one’s nerves for whatever completely irrational reason? This one is mine. That’s all I’m saying; no offense intended.

I decided that the best way to exorcise this from my mind would be to check into the geography of Electric Avenue. Is Electric Avenue the fictional construct of a songwriter, or is it a real place? Perhaps then I could dislodge it from my head.

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The Electric Avenue referenced in Eddy Grant’s song is real. It can be found in the Brixton area of London, England, a part of the Brixton Market. The street name derives from a very simple explanation: it was one of the first market streets in the area lit by electricity. The market along Electric Avenue dates to the late Victorian era when electricity began to make its public debut, and would have been considered a novelty. Notice further that Electric Avenue intersects with Electric Lane. Clearly, they wished to impress shoppers with their electrified street grid.

Demographics in Brixton changed considerably by the time Mr. Grant wrote his 1982 hit. Brixton and surrounding Lambeth neighborhoods housed large concentrations of recent African and Caribbean immigrants. Poor living conditions, crime, unemployment and a prolonged recession contributed to racial tensions that sparked rioting in Brixton in 1981, as memorialized by the lyrics:

Down in the street there is violence
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And I can’t blame all on the sun, oh no

That’s about as intellectual as the lyrics get. Incidentally, the Clash’s "Guns of Brixton" predates the riot in case you were wondering (1979 – I checked).

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Ironically, Electric Avenue wasn’t one of the primary areas involved in the rioting.

I discovered several other Electric Avenues located in various English-speaking countries. They are very difficult to find because they’re drowned out by the song in various search engine queries. There are probably many more that I couldn’t find through clutter.

The United Kingdom wins the award for the most Electric Avenues in my highly unscientific sample. Los Angeles gets a special mention for having two in a single metropolitan area, with Venice Beach and Alhambra. Feel free to add more if you know them.

On February 19, 2012 · 15 Comments

15 Responses to “It’s Electric”

  1. Erick says:

    There is an Electric Avenue in Lewistown, PA. I don’t know the origin of the name, though.

  2. Let’s take this article higher with a link to Electric Avenue in Bellingham, Washington. And Garrett, Washington. And Medical Lake, Washington.

    So it would the state of Washington has at least three places where they can rock it the daytime and in the night (sorry).

  3. Wish we had one of those here in Seattle! Maybe we could have it as an alternate name for the Chief Sealth Trail.

  4. Craig says:

    I used to live by Electric Avenue in Vienna, Virginia. Friends of mine who were local said that the street had its signs swiped regularly back when the song was popular.

  5. Kevin says:

    I’ve had Electric Avenue in my head all day now after reading this.

    Katmandu by Bob Seger is one of my least favorite songs of all time. Ironically also a “location” song.

  6. Matthew says:

    We have an Electric Avenue in Walla Walla, WA as well. It’s out in the playground, in the dark side of town.

  7. Joel says:

    There’s one in my neighborhood too, near Tufts University. Pretty typical residential street for the area, in the densest city in New England, #17 on the list, easily beating Boston at #51.

  8. Katy says:

    There’s an Electric Avenue in Berkeley, Illinois. No clue where the name came from though.

  9. FS says:

    There is an Electric Avenue in Chalfant, PA near Pittsburgh. Here’s a story in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about it.

  10. Pete says:

    I did a search on this at
    Don’t know how accurate it is, but in streets named “Electric”, it appears that 32 U.S. states have at least one “Electric Avenue”. If my data’s correct, here’s the tally by state:

    AR: 2
    CA: 13
    GA: 3
    IL: 3
    IN: 2
    KY: 2
    MD: 3
    MA: 10
    MI: 4
    NM: 3
    NY: 8
    NC: 3
    OH: 4
    PA: 8
    VA: 4
    WA: 4
    WV: 2
    WI: 2

    CO, CT, DE, FL, ID, MN, MT, NH, NJ, OK, OR, SC, TN, and TX have only one Electric Ave. I was curious which states have the most Electric Avenues per capita, and Massachusetts was first, closely followed by New Mexico.

    And just a friendly note to the author: as a Christ follower, I’d appreciate not seeing “bejesus” used for emphasis.

    • Craig says:

      I’m not the author, but I am curious why you think your personal quirks merit automatic deference. (And I phrase this as such because there are myriad “Christ followers” as you put it, who are not offended by the use of “bejesus”.)

      Personally, I’m offended by sanctimony, but you don’t see me asking the author to remove your comment. Moreover, as someone who both appreciates the splendor of language and values the right of a blogger to express themselves however they see fit on their blog, I would be both offended and disappointed to see the author change the text on your behalf.

  11. Peter says:

    Although the name isn’t heard as much anymore, a neighborhood in Queens, New York was known for many years as “Electchester” after a late 1940’s housing development sponsored by the electrician’s union.

  12. Pat says:

    There is an Electric Avenue in West Milwaukee, WI. I presume it got its name because there is a large General Electric factory on the avenue.

  13. Motorvilleboy says:

    Right on, Craig! “Bejesus” has been around for more than a hundred years, possibly originating in Ireland, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone being offended by it. I’ve heard ministers use it as well.

    Cool info otherwise, Pete. Electric Ave in Detroit, MI is a wide boulevard down the middle of which used to run the Detroit & Toledo Shoreline Electric Railway. Now its right of way is a corridor for high tension powerlines. It goes from Detroit through Lincoln Park to Wyandotte and is pretty clear on Google Earth, even where the boulevard disappears and the course cuts diagonally through a grid of residential blocks.

  14. Ed says:

    Thanks for this blog. I never knew another person fascinated by the oddities of geography the way I am.
    There are a number of Electric Avenues in Los Angeles/Orange County areas. Most (though not all) are parallel to the former tracks of the Pacific Electic Interurban Railway.

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